I have a friend who says he really likes John Lennon and Paul McCartney. He’s just “not impressed with that little band they were in.” I find that amusing, but I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve loved the Beatles for as long as I can remember. Their music never really gets old.
Each of the Beatles had something to contribute: John Lennon, with his sarcastic wit and social activism; Paul McCartney with his colorful word images and innovative bass playing; George Harrison, with his mysticism and the way he brought Eastern sounds into popular music; and Ringo Starr, a good drummer and a hell of a nice guy. Most fans of the Beatles would agree that the band was more than the sum of its parts.
Even so, the argument always comes up: Who was the most important Beatle? For years, my answer was Paul. Later on I started to drift toward John. Now I’m starting to drift again, not toward George, but toward Ringo.
I remember years ago, reading Howard Stern’s Private Parts – back when Stern was funny and not just a guy who liked to record himself flirting with strippers. One part that really stands out is the Stuttering John “interview” with Ringo. Stuttering John shouted, “What did you do with the money?” Ringo said, “What money?” And Stuttering John followed up: “The money your momma gave you for singing lessons.” Ringo’s answer really summed up his character for me: “I spent it on fish and chips, actually.” You’ve gotta love that. The nice Beatle, the one who can laugh at himself and doesn’t take himself seriously.
On a personal level, Ringo has always been my favorite, always the one I imagined I would enjoy hanging out with, drinking a cold one. On a musical level, I never really thought much about it. People poke fun at his voice, which I agree was “not all that,” and at the silliness of the songs he sang (and in a couple of instances, wrote), like “Octopus’s Garden” and “Don’t Pass Me By.” The other Beatles people tend to worship. Especially John Lennon. But in point of fact, Ringo had a unique style. Hard to put your finger on it, but his drumming does sound a bit different. He has attributed that difference to being a left-handed drummer playing a right-handed kit.
Original drummer Pete Best had charisma and sex appeal and from what I’ve determined, is also a very nice guy. Maybe the Beatles would’ve been just as successful if they hadn’t fired him and replaced him with Ringo. I have a feeling that’s not the case, however. I think Ringo added an essential ingredient to the mix: fun.
John and Paul were superb songwriters, especially as a team. George wasn’t bad either (although he did get busted for accidentally cribbing the tune from the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” for his song “My Sweet Lord”). But I don’t think that’s enough to explain how huge the Beatles got. While the singer-songwriter part of the group tended to take the listener into his head and into the clouds, I think Ringo projected a sense of “Hey people, we’re just clowning around. Don’t take it so seriously.” I think he kept them grounded and kept them fun.
Maybe he was really the linchpin of the Beatles?